In the 2000 draft the Oakland Raiders stunned the rest of the NFL
by choosing a kicker, Florida State's Sebastian Janikowski, with
the 17th pick. Janikowski, who signed a five-year, $6.05 million
contract, displaced an undrafted 27-year-old journeyman, Joe
Nedney, who'd been playing for about $350,000 a year. The prime
reason why teams rarely draft kickers is best illustrated by the
two kickers' stats over the past three seasons. Nedney, who
played for the Denver Broncos, the Carolina Panthers and, most
recently, the Tennessee Titans, has made more field goals (79 to
71) and been more accurate (.814 to .763) than Janikowski.

The drafting of Janikowski and the selection of Martin and Bill
Gramatica in the third and fourth rounds, respectively, in 1999
and 2001 were exceptions to the NFL rule of late. Of the 17
kickers who made at least 23 field goals last season, only four
were drafted. The rest joined the league as free agents. "You
don't draft kickers, because you can find them if you look hard
enough," says the New York Jets' Mike Westhoff, a special teams
coach for 20 years.

Last season, a league-record 25 regular-season games went into
overtime and 112 more were decided by one score or less. So with
more than 51% of the games decided by eight points or fewer,
landing a reliable kicker is a necessity, no matter where you
find him. No kicker is expected to be selected on the first day
of next weekend's draft. The highest-rated kicker is Tulane's
Seth Marler, who last season made 18 of 28 field goals and
averaged 42.7 yards per punt. Despite an impressive workout at
the scouting combine in February, he projects as a fourth-round
choice at best.

Another reason that kickers are rarely drafted is the salary cap.
Many low-round selections make rosters because they are the cheap
labor that teams often need to get under the cap. It's easier to
get a kicker off the street than it is to find a young third or
fourth cornerback who can play a prominent role on special teams
as well.

Also, coaches want to give kickers extended tryouts, because
kicking in college is so different from that in the NFL. In the
pros the rushers are quicker and the pressure is greater. And in
1999 the NFL began using K-balls, fresh, out-of-the-box balls
reserved for kicking and punting situations. The material of the
K-balls is much harder than that of the balls kickers are
accustomed to booting in college. "New balls do not compress,
which makes a huge difference in distance and accuracy," Westhoff
says. --Peter King

COLOR PHOTO: HEINZ KLUETMEIER HIT AND MISS Janikowski has shown a powerful leg, but accuracyhas been a problem for the former first-round pick.